Red Hill, by Jamie McGuire

3 Stars

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I know Jamie McGuire as that woman who writes generic new adult novels, filled with characters likable enough to move the story along, but absolutely forgettable one week later. She’s a predictable author, which is why I was intrigued by Red Hill. Could the woman who wrote Beautiful Disaster pull off a zombie story? What the heck? I’ll try anything once.

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Yes, McGuire can pull off a zombie novel, but in the same way she can pull off a new adult novel. I’m not an avid reader of this genre, but I felt her story worked well enough to move the plot along, while lacking the depth of true sci-fi. McGuire managed to keep a very simple plot of seeking out loved ones and safety, pretty engaging, though. There were a few errors in story-telling, such as when a character drops his keys beyond reach, only to have them moments later, with no explanation. This wasn’t a recurring theme, however.

The shortcoming of Red HIll is one of characterization. This book came out just after Beautiful Disaster and McGuire’s effort to separate these characters from the intensity of her previous ones is clear. Scarlet was bland when she wasn’t infuriating. I had similar, yet more watered-down feelings for everyone else, despite the attempts at romantic plot lines. I found the ending both surprising and unbelievable, but not quite disappointing, because it was at least final. I would not call it an HEA. Overall, I enjoyed this stand-alone title.

Review Word Count: 247

 

Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

2 Stars DNF

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I will start by acknowledging that this book is universally loved. I haven’t met a single person who didn’t enjoy it… and  I do not understand why.

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I don’t usually review DNF’s, because I don’t think it’s fair to voice an opinion on a title I didn’t actually read. I’m going to this time because I couldn’t finish. Y’all, I have tried four times to read this book and it’s just… dull. The imagery is beautiful and so clearly depicted, that it reminded me of Steinbeck. Even in Canary Row, though, Steinbeck managed to grasp my attention through his detailed characters. That’s exactly what this book felt like, too: a Steinbeck-level writing exercise. Despite the setting of a magical circus, though, Morgenstern fails to elicit an ounce of feeling for any of her seemingly eighty-seven characters. Coupled with the lack of any engaging plot, it just became a chore to read these random artistic journal entries.

I give the author credit for an original storyline. It was compelling and had such promise… until the other eighty-five characters showed up, all equally as flat as the main two and nothing happened. Reading this book was such an effort, that I finally gave up at 42%. If you love imagery just that much, this is the book for you. If you’re excited by the prospect of a magical circus death match, as suggested by the blurb… well, I don’t think that one’s been written yet. If it has, this ain’t it.

Review Word Count: 249

 

 

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

2 Stars

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While some David Sedaris style humor wouldn’t have been misplaced in The Glass Castle, I did understand and expect that this would be a serious memoir of abuse. Despite my rating, I admire how Walls tells a story of alcoholism and mental illness with love. Though the story’s matriarch seems to be a case for forced sterilization, The Glass Castle is uniquely written in such a way that it’s unlikely she would pick up on the implications within them, were she to read it. I respect that the author wasn’t willing to hurt her mother, no matter who she was. However, while this book lacked Sedaris’s dark humor, it did mimic his anecdotal writing style and it just… didn’t work.

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I’ve read dysfunctional memoirs, humorous memoirs, and dysfunctionally humorous memoirs. While the latter two can be told in Walls’s campfire style of individual stories, the former works much better as one cohesive tale. The problem with The Glass Castle is that it’s so deeply depressing, you don’t want to read the next woeful childhood drama; and you don’t need to, because the last one was wrapped up so neatly. Where Jenny Lawson kept me engaged, because I couldn’t wait to read more about her ridiculous shenanigans, Walls made me want to pick up some paranormal romance and escape this horrible and bleak world for some alien sexy times. The story wasn’t bad. The writing wasn’t bad. Thank heavens the ending wasn’t bad, because it was tough to get to it.

Review Word Count: 250

Ride Steady, by Kristen Ashley

3 Stars

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KA is my go-to escapist romance author. Her books are delightfully predictable, because in 50 characters, she replicates the same five personalities. While definitely romance, these books usually have an engaging plot to keep them out of the erotica category… until recently.

I’m not sure if KA’s fall is due to having a publisher or if she’s cranking out the books too quickly, but her books have grown shorter and both the sex and plot scarcer. It’s as if her last five to ten titles have been long novellas, where we meet some new characters, revisit some old ones, and see the resolution of a minor conflict. Since every book in the Chaos series has flopped, I checked Ride Steady out from the library, expecting disappointment… and ultimately setting myself up to be pleasantly surprised.

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Ride Steady tells the typical KA tale of love gone awry until boy saves girl some odd years later. While there were a couple of forced crossovers, unlike many of her latest titles, this one didn’t focus too heavily on cameos from other books. The characters were true KA characters, both quite likable, and the sex scenes were limited, yet explicit and normal. The plot was no Mystery Man, still being a bit sparse, but it was present and it was interesting. I’d have liked to have seen it developed more. The resolution was happy, as always. Overall, while the old KA isn’t back in full force, I think I see her on the horizon.

Review Word Count: 250

Chaos Series Order (sans novellas)

  1. Own the Wind
  2. Fire Inside
  3. Ride Steady
  4. Walk Through Fire

Off Season, by Jack Ketchum

3 Stars

Off Season

There’s something about warmer weather that makes me want to read horror. Perhaps, I just want evidence to support my insistence that camping is a miserable idea.

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Off Season certainly provides this, as Ketchum tells a tale of a weekend getaway gone horribly wrong, when joined by incestuous cave-dwelling savages. While the scenes of gore are certainly chilling, the character development and plot are both pretty bland. There are no twists to this story. It is exactly as advertised on the back cover and no more. Furthermore, not a single death broke my heart or left me feeling anything but mildly ill, because I didn’t care about any of these people.

I may not be a seasoned reader of the genre, but overall, I found Ketchum’s Off Season to be gruesomely fun. Other horror writers aim to get inside your head and mind rape you with their stories. You’re not intended to read Stephen King’s It and develop a fear of clowns; instead you fear the ancient evil inhabiting the world and the people in it, including yourself. Ketchum is a bit more to the point, both with his plotline and word count. I find that truly brilliant horror is tedious by nature, due to the aforementioned mental invasion. This title can be read in a few days and forgotten, despite some of the more cringe-worthy moments. Nick Cutter’s The Troop, however, still haunts me. If you want to be scared, without true commitment, Off Season is a good choice.

Review Word Count: 250

Darkfever (Fever series 1), by Karen Marie Moning

3 Stars

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I’ve been a fan of Karen Marie Moning since I read her Highlander series. It wasn’t an especially deep saga, but it was a great deal of fun and written fairly well, with likable characters. I’ve started Darkfever several times, but so often, when I’m in the mood for a paranormal romance, I expect romance. While the plot of Darkfever is not only engaging, but quite original, Jerricho Barrons comes off as exceptionally abrasive in this first installment. At times, he even seems cruel. Coupled with the Sookie Stackhouse-esque exaggeration of Mac’s southern charm, while I could tell this one would be worth the effort, for the longest time, I just couldn’t put it forth.

I’m glad I finally committed. Jerricho’s edges smoothed out a bit and Mac toughened up a touch, but I mostly just really liked this story. Unlike vampires, werewolves, and witches, the fae haven’t been overdone in books and television, so there’s a lot of room to expand on the lore, and expand Moning does. This is one of those delightful paranormal stories that includes a glossary in the book, because the author has gone so deep in her creation of the world. Sadly, though, world building seemed to make up the majority of this tale. This is not a stand-alone title, rather clearly the set-up for a series and it reads like one. That’s not a bad thing, as long as you’re looking for a commitment to character development and intricate plot details.

Review Word Count: 247

Series Order
1. Darkfever
2. Bloodfever
3. Faefever
4. Dreamfever
5. Shadowfever
6. Iced
7. Burned

Beautiful series (Travis and Abby), by Jamie McGuire

2 Stars

Meh. That about sums it up.

I was surprised, and admittedly disappointed, that there is zero sex in Beautiful Disaster. It’s not that I can’t enjoy something without smut, but for this kind of romance, I expect some sexy times. Instead, I got an abusive relationship between once-friends, Travis and Abby. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I love a good alpha male. Travis wasn’t alpha, though. He was irrationally angry, a lot. After deciding that he and Abby, can’t possibly be just friends, he acts like a raving lunatic with the smallest provocation, by smashing up his apartment, beating the crap out of his cousin, and generally stalking Abby. It’s not fantasy sexy like Kristen Ashley. It’s scary and there aren’t even erotic scenes to make up for it. The “plot” is distractingly far-fetched in its conclusion, taking the reader right out of the pages for a good eye roll. 1 Star

Walking Disaster was surprisingly much more readable. Travis’s point-of-view comes off as less violent than Abby’s perception of the same events. The plot flaws are still present, however. I just couldn’t get past them. 2 Stars

Beautiful Wedding was wonderful, if only because we got to see an author respond productively to criticism. I’m not the only one who found Travis to be too much (which is saying something in the genre) and one year later, we see a realistically toned-down version in Beautiful Wedding. This wasn’t just a happy ending, but a healthy one to an unhealthy romance. 3 Stars

Review Word Count (sans star ratings): 249

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changelings 1), by Nalini Singh

4 Stars

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I ignored this recommendation for months. I mean, for realz, yo, look at the cover art. Read the title. This must be nothing but trash. I’m so glad for my habit of reading titles because they look awful. Sometimes it leads me to some real gems, like the Psy-Changeling books. This series is told in the style of J.R. Ward and Kresley Cole, detailing an over-arching plot through the individual tales of different couples. It’s most definitely paranormal romance, but the story surrounding it is just so fun and original… and also broken up with explicit sex scenes.

The Psy are a cerebral species, connected to a neural network and possessing psychic powers. This made them all batcrap crazy, so they got rid of emotion 80 or so years ago. The Changelings are shape shifters that exist in packs, based on their animal. Changeling leopard Lucas strikes a deal with Nikita Duncan and is intrigued by the warmth he feels from her daughter, Sascha. When a neighboring pack is certain a Psy has taken one of their own, Lucas must work with Sascha to catch the villain before war breaks out.

Lucas is a definite alpha male and Sascha is a bit too weak at times. The language can be a touch redundant as well, but these issues are standard for the first installment in a series. The overarching plot is unique and the characters are enjoyable. This is a great beginning to a paranormal romance series.

Review Word Count: 247

Psy-Changeling series order (sans novellas)

1. Slave to Sensation
2. Visions of Heat
3. Caressed by Ice
4. Mine to Possess
5. Hostage to Pleasure
6. Branded by Fire
7. Blaze of Memory
8. Bonds of Justice
9. Play of Passion
10. Kiss of Snow
11. Tangle of Need
12. Heart of Obsidian
13. Shield of Winter
14. Shards of Hope

Keep Me Safe (Slow Burn 1), by Maya Banks

2 Stars DNF

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I don’t like to review DNF’s, but I tried, y’all. I really tried.

The problem with Keep Me Safe isn’t the plot. It was pretty original, mixing romantic suspense with paranormal romance. That’s why I gave it a second go (and star) after only having made it through 25% the first time. You have to be in the mood for Banks, because she loves her damsels. These aren’t KA damsels, mouthy and impulsive. These are old school Disney damsels, too stupid to refuse an apple from a stranger or prick their finger on a glowing spinning wheel. These gals are weak and need saving from the badasses who fall in love with them instantly… which can be fun to read. In fact, this theme worked particularly well in Banks’s highlander series and the first half of her KGI series, which, admittedly, takes a hilariously hard left turn.

Keep Me Safe’s major flaw isn’t the plot or characters. It’s the writing. I don’t know if Banks has jumped the shark or if she’s writing too quickly, but this book was unbelievably repetitive. In the first few chapters, Caleb confesses that he’d do it all over again at least four times. It takes away from the effect and is exhausting to read. On top of that, I know this is romance, but oh my stars, Caleb turned into such a vagina. I just could not take another redundant heartfelt speech from this “badass.” It was beyond nauseating. I quit at 66%.

Review Word Count: 246

Slow Burn

1. Keep Me Safe
2. In His Keeping
3. Safe at Last

The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen

3 Stars

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This book falls into a hole. It’s really quite technical for everyday reading, but Jensen has made a clear effort to “dumb it down.” At times, this is useful, but others, the effort is wasted, because I honestly cannot imagine anyone reading this if they don’t work directly with teenagers and/or have an interest in psychology. While I appreciated the diagrams and charts, teachers, librarians, social workers, and such will understand the language well enough without some of the more simplistic examples.

The science is sound enough. The experiments mentioned are relevant, though they’re also a bit obviously biased at times. While Jensen knows her psychology, however, she struggles with the social aspect of teens. She references her own teenagers several times, but mentions that they were in high school in 2005. I graduated in 2006 and I can guaran-damn-tee that teenagers, high school, and the entire social dynamic tied up between them has changed exponentially in the last 10 years. For example, on page one, she’s horrified that her son would want to dye his hair a non-natural color.

Walk into a public high school today and I’d say a good quarter of them have non-natural hair color… in the suburbs.

In general, I enjoyed the book. I’m fascinated by the effect of media on children and feel that teenagers are often overlooked, lumped in with adults. We worry until they aren’t cute anymore. Jensen doesn’t. She’s just a little out of touch with current teens.

Review Word Count: 243